Please bear with me on this... It's long and I may be a little all over the place:
Stem cells are immature cells that develop into more specialized cells such as blood cells, muscle, nerve and others. Stem cells were isolated from animal models in the mid 1960's. In 1974, the presence of hematopoietic stem cells in human umbilical cord blood was first reported. In 1983, human cord blood was suggested to be a transplantable source of stem cells.
Hematopoietic Stem Cells
Hematopoietic stem cells are the progenitor cells of the blood components (red cells, white cells, platelets) and immune system. These can be obtained from the bone marrow, circulating or peripheral blood and umbilical cord blood. These cells circulate freely in the fetal blood, and are believed to migrate shortly after birth into the bone marrow, where they actively multiply in unlimited amounts throughout childhood and adulthood. Hematopoietic stem cells have the capacity for self-renewal and are multipotential, i.e., have the ability to develop into different blood cells. These account for 1 of 2,000 marrow cells. Umbilical cord blood is not only a rich source of hematopoietic stem cells, but it has also been found to contain mesenchymal progenitor cells that give rise to marrow stroma, bone, cartilage, muscle and connective tissue.
Cord blood, also referred to as umbilical cord blood or placental blood, is blood that flows in the circulation of and provides sustenance to the developing fetus in the mother's womb. After the baby's birth, the residual blood in the umbilical cord and placenta (afterbirth) is often thrown away as biologic waste. This needlessly discarded, life-saving resource of untapped umbilical cord blood is a rich and convenient supply of stem cells.
Uses & Functions of Stem Cells
When a patient receives chemotherapy or undergoes radiation treatment, a person's mature normal cells, stem cells and abnormal cells are damaged. Stem cell transplants are performed to provide new stem cells from a healthy donor to replace the defective ones. The stem cells:
~ Can actively divide and produce new blood cells within 4-6 weeks and are used in the treatment of certain diseases, including some cancers and inherited diseases. The hematopoietic stem cells will stimulate regeneration of the blood components in the bone marrow damaged by very high doses of chemotherapy and/ or radiation.
~ Correct diseases in which the marrow is diseased or does not function properly (e.g. immune deficiency, aplastic anemia, red cell aplasia, white cell disorders).
~ Produce enzymes that are defective in children with inherited or inborn errors of metabolism.
~ Produce other types of cells (glial cells and macrophages) that gradually travel to the brain, liver, and other organs.
Diseases Treatable With Stem Cells
At least 70 diseases have been treated with stem cells. These include cancers (leukemias, lymphomas, myelomas), blood disorders (thalassemias, sickle cell anemia, Fanconi's anemia), immune deficiency diseases, genetic diseases and others.
It is not the ENTIRE field of stem cell research, but the specific field of human embryonic stem cell research that is at the center of an ethical debate.
Opponents of the research argue that embryonic stem cell technologies will pave the road to reproductive cloning "Playing God" and can fundamentally devalue human life. Those in the pro-life movement argue that a human embryo is a human life and is therefore entitled to protection.
Contrarily, supports of embryonic stem cell research argue that such research should be pursed because the resultant treatments could have significant medical potential. It is also noted that excess embryos created for in vitro fertilization could be donated with consent and used for the research.
The ensuing debate has prompted authorities around the world to seek regulatory frameworks and highlighted the fact that stem cell research represents a social and ethical challenge.
On a Personal Note
Working in the Bio-Medical field I largely support stem cell research. I feel that God has given us all the necessary resources to excel and thrive as a race and it is up to mankind to find and harvest those hidden resources. If my husband, one of my children, a member of my family or a friend were to be stricken with any one of the 40 possible life-threatening diseases that can be successfully treated by the science of stem cell transplant... Then how I could I justify turning my nose up on the means in which the research was performed by these amazing, hard working men & women that posses the incredible gift for finding these cures, for finding these hidden resources with which God has provided. Would I tell the doctors to not treat my loved one? To not save his or her life because I disagree with the means in which research was performed to supply this life-saving solution? HELL NO!!! And I think the majority of those who oppose stem cell research would find themselves playing the role of the hypocrite if faced with the same decision.
Red Envelope Project
So what prompted all this time writing about stem cells? Well, my good friend has elected to participate in The Red Envelope Project.
Although I myself will not take part because:
A.) I support stem cell research;
B.) I cannot (in good conscience) ask for abortion to be illegal because the ramifications would be women & young girls finding dark and gruesome ways in which to abort the unborn fetus and then humankind is faced with two horrible deaths as opposed to the loss of one potential life;
I do support her pro-life efforts, and would like to offer the choice to participate to others. However, I did feel it extremely important to do so only after offering additional information about stem cell research. I am so proud of my friends desire to educate young girls with positive life-saving options to unplanned pregnancies! In my opinion, education is vital and providing resources is not only a key component in any movement but is really the most effective way to go.
Tid-Bit: I was faced with an unplanned pregnancy as a young-adult. I seemed to have this silly, strong-willed egg that was determined to beat the odds by becoming the 1% that proves "the pill" doesn't always work. With odds like that I knew this baby had a purpose and was sent for a reason! 18 1/2 years later my amazing baby boy is studying Material Science Engineering and may one day be that incredible individual that through controversial research finds the final cure for all cancers or who knows what!